‘Marketers must swap tactics for strategy to remain relevant in the board room’

Marketing has to fly the flag for the customer and make itself indispensable to the rest of the business so it is seen as more than just a cost centre, says Raoul Pinnell.


The dawn of my career was with Heinz. I sold baked beans during the day and studied at night. My first lesson: the original Mr Heinz took dried horseradish (added value) to market (where he got instant feedback) and returned to his home town, not with an empty wagon, but a pay load (extra margin) of other goods.

I then had the joy of serving customers by bringing their voices into the boardroom while working for Nestlé, Prudential, NatWest and Shell. I have been working longer than Marketing Week has been in existence.

So how was marketing seen decades ago? It was in danger of being hijacked by advertising with a focus on ‘problems’ that were solved by ‘solutions’ presented in creative messages, rather than in meeting the real needs of customers. Mercifully, marketing’s role developed into flying the flag of the customer. Interpreting consumer research was key. The mantra became ‘putting the customer first’.

We should seize the strategic high ground, not just the tactical battleground. Without a customer there is no business.

For marketing to survive, it has to add value. If it can’t, forget it. At Prudential, for example, we embedded ‘plain English’ into our policy documents – little cost, but highly valued by clients.

To have influence, we have to cuddle up to finance. At Shell, we had to get to grips with intangible assets; for example, royalties – how to value them and how to charge for them. Hey presto, finance directors started to see marketing as more than just a cost centre.

We should seize the strategic high ground, not just the tactical battleground. Without a customer there is no business. Why would a business need a strategy director or management consultants if the CEO has used marketing to share, develop, get buy-in and communicate the future direction of the company?

Marketing needs to get out more, as friend or foe, and be acknowledged by shareholders, fellow directors and the populace as an integrative force that helps to deliver sustainable businesses.

In my twilight years, I am involved as a non-executive in the health sector. Does the NHS need marketing? At Bromley Healthcare, we have some of the highest patient recommendation scores in the country and live within our budgets, which 70% of the NHS seems unable to do. So yes, all sectors need marketing. It’s the product and the service: get it right, get it efficient and you win.

As told to Michael Barnett

Raoul Pinnell was chairman at Shell Brands International and marketing director at NatWest and Prudential. He is now chairman at Bromley Healthcare.



There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Simon Hesketh 13 Jul 2018

    Excellent piece by my first mentor at Nestle and i wholeheartedly agree

  2. Vivette Bradley 15 Jul 2018

    Agree but I get bored and frustrated by having to constantly bat my corner at strategic level let alone getting it across the line to a tactical level. Any advice?

  3. Raoul Pinnell 16 Jul 2018

    My personal view is to tackle the issue from what might be the perspective of the ‘other side’ i.e. the CEO might say that they are focussed on the ‘customer’ – but are they really most interested in the ‘share price’. Putting a case based on a correlation that ‘customer focussed companies deliver higher returns to shareholders’ – might make them listen to the pitch for more resources to be put behind the customer – as it could lead to higher loyalty – from both customers and shareholders – and the CEO happy to support your case.

  4. Francesca Brosan 16 Jul 2018

    Totally agree with this Raoul. The research we’ve conducted in partnership with Marketing Week https://www.marketingweek.com/2018/05/16/b2b-marketers/ shows that although senior B2B marketers are just as involved with big strategic issues in their organisations as they are with tactically challenges they still struggle to prove their value. There is some indication that it’s on the up – 67% of marketers believe that their influence is growing, but far to often we see that the lack of data and insight puts marketers at a disadvantage when quizzed by the C-suite. This is also the answer however; data and customer insight is what we can bring to the boardroom but it’s one of the least invested in objectives. Sadly this is a B2B truth. There is rarely enough budget to cover all the comms bases, let alone to the research as well.

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